Putting their college-age children in God’s hands

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Having a child go off to college can be challenging for a mother because she might feel she has lost her purpose and identity, said Laurel Howanitz, a parishioner of St. Mark Church in Vienna. That is why she formed a support group for St. Mark mothers to share their experiences during the transition and pray for their children.

"We work hard to build (their sense of purpose and identity) back up with friendship and Scripture," Howanitz said.

Having a support system rooted in faith and Scripture was crucial for her.

"I needed to know that God was in control," she said. "Sometimes you would not know things like, 'Is my child eating today?' but you have to turn it over. You just have to trust that God is there."

To help them do this the mothers read a chapter of a book, The Power of a Praying Parent, during monthly meetings. They also discuss their concerns and get advice from veteran college mothers on how to support their children even if they are not there. At the end of the meetings, they prepare care packages.

When Howanitz started the support group two years ago, she prayed that at least three mothers would show up. Since then the St. Mark group has taken off, expanding to two monthly sessions -one in the morning and one in the evening - with at least a dozen mothers coming to support each other and pray together for their children and all college-age youths. As participants invited friends from other parishes, many started asking how to start their own group.

"You spend 18 years of your life taking care of your children and when they are gone you are like, 'What do I do?'," said Kim Monroe, a parishioner of St. John Neumann Church in Reston. "You feel like a new mom thinking that nobody else is overwhelmed with the same issues. … To hear other women's trials, tribulations and what is working (for them) has been a great support."

Monroe found out about the meetings at St. Mark through her parish bulletin and the encouragement of her youngest son, who was a senior in high school.

Remembering the anguish she experienced when her first son when to college, she knew that she could use a little help and found a way to plan her work schedule to fit the morning meetings. "A lot of times women do need the extra support but they are not taking care of themselves," Monroe admitted. "Sometimes it takes somebody to plant the seed of an idea."

Last year Monroe started a morning and evening meeting at St. John Neumann. She said the meetings are not only helpful for "empty-nesters" but anybody who is coping with their children embarking on a new journey. It includes mothers with children who are about to start college, are going back to school, starting grad school or trying to figure out their career path.

Everything shared in the group is confidential, a prayer network, she said. Sometimes the power of their collective prayers is tangible - a child calls home, starts going to Mass again or just is able to find his or her niche after a rough transition - and other times they hope the Lord works quietly.

Mary Arendt, a parishioner of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna, said hearing other mothers is preparing her for when her eldest daughter goes to college next fall.

"As parents we are always looking for other parents that have gone through the challenges facing us today," Arendt said. "They are praying that my daughter makes the right decision and adjusts well. It's so comforting."

She will start a similar group for other mothers at Our Lady of Good Counsel so they can experience the same relief and encouragement.

Howanitz has been amazed by the participants' willingness to bring support to other mothers and is looking for other women who want to be group leaders in their parishes. Howanitz said that being part of this group helps mothers realize that no matter the stage of life their children are in, when they release them to God they are in good hands.

"The point is to remember somebody else is watching now," she said. "Turn your child over and believe everything is going to be OK."

Negro can be reached at mnegro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @MNegroACH.

Find out more

Contact Laurel Howanitz at 703/759-2094 or howanitz@aol.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014